Tag: iPhone

House of cards.

A more philosophical view of recent years.

I admit to being too free with my silly clichés including, “I can predict anything unless it involves the future!”  So now that millions of informed people have the benefit of “20:20 hindsight“, why is it years since the banking crisis first erupted and we are still without a root and branch overhaul of the governance of the industry?

Did you see Per Kurowski’s interview with a leading regulator on Learning from Dogs yesterday?  Aren’t we so slow to learn!

Anyway, I waffle on!  Let me get to the point of today’s post.

Back on the 1st September, there was a post called Understanding Europe. One of the resulting commentators was Pendantry who is author of a blog called Wibble.  He included a link to a poem that he wrote on the 28th February, 2009!  The fact that the poem is still so relevant (and when we see what’s happening in Europe perhaps even more relevant now!) is truly shocking.  I wanted to republish it which I do with the kind permission of Pendantry.  Here it is.


House of cards

When the inevitable strikes,
when the house falls down,
do you patch up the walls,
fix the holes in the roof,
shore it all up,
splash it with paint?


You learn from the mistakes.
You start from scratch.
You call in the architects.
You rebuild the foundations.
You use new materials;
replace wattle and daub
with a sounder design.


Because you’re lost outside the box,
and your mates demand
to regain their riches (and, now!):
You set up the same as before,
perhaps with a few bells and whistles
(spun to persuade that they’ll work).

And… in the end, we’ll believe
that your clothing is not invisible.

“Who is more foolish?
The fool, or the fool who follows him?”


Written over three years and five months ago. Shame on us all!

More on this new era

Some reflections from Herbert Marshall McLuhan

In a sense this piece today connects with the conclusions from my review of David Kauders’ new book The Greatest Crash; that we are transitioning into a new era.

That’s why I was fascinated to come across a long essay about Herbert Marshall McLuhan written by Michael Valpy and published in the The Globe and Mail last July.

Marshall McLuhan in the 1970s

WikiPedia has a comprehensive description of Mr. McLuhan.

Let me quote some extracts from that article to illustrate why I made the connection with my book review.

The University of Toronto professor of English credited with foreseeing the Internet 30 years before it was invented and broadcasting scores of ideas about how electronic communications media was changing the way humans think has been redeemed from labels of McLuhanacy and psuedo-scientific charlatanism.

His work no longer is described, as it was in one erudite journal of the 1970s, as “a hoax so gigantic that it shows every sign of becoming an international intellectual scandal.”

Later on in the article,

Deciding recently to pay a visit to the McLuhan coach house, she wrote: “To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of McLuhan until I moved into residence at SMC, and accidentally stumbled into the book and media studies program. But as I quickly learned, Marshall McLuhan is kind of a big deal. You know that phrase that you hear everywhere: ‘The medium is the message?’ Yeah, that was McLuhan.”

And McLuhan’s problem – one of his problems – is that his message couldn’t escape his medium. As Douglas Coupland points out in a 2009 McLuhan biography, the wonderful, whimsical, boundlessly optimistic and imaginative sixties society that embraced him and lapped up his ideas morphed into the gloom of a change-fatigued seventies society that tired of hearing from him. Yet the brand remained strong. “You know that phrase that you hear everywhere: ‘The medium is the message?’” Ms. Kellogg asks us. “Yeah, that was McLuhan.”

Think of his intellectual history as a journey between two mountain peaks passing through a shadowed valley.

When one thinks of the power of the many new tools we lump under the title ‘social media’ then it’s easy to think that the way that humans are now communicating will have profound implications.  Even this humble Blog was read by over 31,000 in the month of October.  Back to the article,

McLuhan believed that each new technology created a new human environment and thus a new way of thinking. The medium-is-the-message meant that the content of electronic media is insignificant; it is the medium itself that has the greater impact on the environment. In other words, it wasn’t what we were seeing on TV that was important; it was the fact that we were watching TV (and not doing other things) that altered our brains.

And because, as Prof. Francis points out, McLuhan saw humans as essentially communicative animals, he believed it was the technologies of communication that were primary in shaping who we were, what we thought, and how we acted, with effects that often were subliminal and therefore not recognized.

Finally, the article concludes thus,

To truly understand McLuhan and his ideas, says Prof. Scheffel-Dunand, students have to read him.

Most students of McLuhan today, she says, read scholars who write about McLuhan rather than read McLuhan himself. Which is a mistake, she says, because McLuhan wrote as a poet: he wrote metaphorically, aphoristically, he wrote in what he called “mosaics.”

Biographer Philip Marchand agrees. “My suggestion for students is to begin with the articles written by McLuhan – ‘Acoustic Space’ and ‘The Effect of the Printed Book on the language of the 16th century’ and a couple others that appear in the anthology entitled Explorations in Communication. These articles are lucid, comprehensible introductions to McLuhan’s thought.”

To rejoin UpbeaT blogger Emily Kellogg on her coach house tour: “I don’t want to bore you, dear readers, but I just can’t help gushing. I dig this stuff. These kind of conversations, are the things that make an undergraduate degree worth pursuing. They’re the ones that give you an adrenalin rush because you’re thinking so quickly – and your brain kind of feels like a trapeze artist jumping from idea to idea.

There’s also something innately cool about having an intellectual conversation that ranges from iPhones to Heidegger in five seconds flat in the place that housed Marshall McLuhan as he wrote the books that revolutionized the field of media research.”

Ms. Kellogg: 2011 medium of McLuhan’s message.

Michael Valpy is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

The Sun to our Rescue

Possibly the start of the end of traditional means of generating electricity

A recent item by David Roberts on the Grist website/Blog caught my eye,

Solar is getting cheap fast—pay attention, Very Serious People

That was the headline to the opening, thus,

I hope everyone has read Kees Van Der Leun’s post about the rapidly falling cost of solar PV. I want to draw out one quick point that Kees leaves implicit.

He argues that PV will be the cheapest source of electricity for most of the world some time around 2018, and for the rest of the world soon after. That could be off by a few years in either direction. It depends on whether the cost curve for silicon solar cells continues as it has the past and, as Alan says in his comment, whether the cost curve for “balance of system” costs (steel, glass, installation, etc.) declines as well. Let’s say it could be off by five years either way. Let’s just assume it’s 2023 before solar PV crosses grid parity and becomes cheaper than coal.

The Kees Van Der Leun post, referred to, points out that,

For a long time, the holy grail of solar photovoltaics (PV) has been “grid parity,” the point at which it would be as cheap to generate one’s own solar electricity as it is to buy electricity from the grid. And that is indeed an important market milestone, being achieved now in many places around the world. But recently it has become clear that PV is set to go beyond grid parity and become the cheapest way to generate electricity.

A hundred solar cells, good for 380 watts of solar PV power. Photo: Ariane van Dijk

Whenever I say this I encounter incredulity, even vehement opposition, from friends and foes of renewable energy alike. Apparently, knowledge of the rapid developments of the last few years has not been widely disseminated. But it’s happening, right under our noses! It is essential to understand this so that we can leverage it to rapidly switch to a global energy system fully based on renewable energy.

Working on solar PV energy at Ecofys since 1986, I have seen steady progression: efficiency goes up, cost goes down. But it was only on a 2004 visit to Q-Cells‘ solar cell factory in Thalheim, Germany, that it dawned on me that PV could become very cheap indeed. They gave me a stack of 100 silicon solar cells, each capable of producing 3.8 watts of power in full sunshine. I still have it in the office; it’s only an inch high!

That’s when I realized how little silicon was needed to supply the annual electricity consumption of an average European family (4,000 kWh). Under European solar radiation, it would take 1,400 cells, totaling less than 30 pounds of silicon.

Of course, you need to cover the cells with some glass and add a frame, a support structure, some cables, and an inverter. But the fact that 30 pounds of silicon, an amount that costs $700 to produce, is enough to generate a lifetime of household electricity baffled me. Over 25 years, the family would pay at least $25,000 for the same 100,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity from fossil fuels — and its generation cost alone would total over $6,000!

Back to the David Roberts article,

He argues that PV will be the cheapest source of electricity for most of the world some time around 2018, and for the rest of the world soon after. That could be off by a few years in either direction. It depends on whether the cost curve for silicon solar cells continues as it has the past and, as Alan says in his comment, whether the cost curve for “balance of system” costs (steel, glass, installation, etc.) declines as well. Let’s say it could be off by five years either way. Let’s just assume it’s 2023 before solar PV crosses grid parity and becomes cheaper than coal.

Here’s the thing: 2023 isn’t that far off. It feels distant to us in a lot of ways. My kids will be out of college. Fifty versions of the iPhone will have come and gone. We might finally have the jetpacks we were promised.

But in terms of energy infrastructure, 12 years is nothing. It can take half that long or longer to permit and build big coal and nuclear plants, and they are meant to last a long-ass time. The Perry K Steam Plant, which serves downtown Indianapolis, was built in 1938. They didn’t have color TV then. Thirty-six coal plants in the U.S. were built before 1950. If a coal plant built today lasts that long, it will still be belching all over the atmosphere in 2072. My kids will be in their 60s.

This is also true of nuclear plants (the oldest is 42 years) and to a lesser extent natural-gas plants. It’s even true of transmission lines. These are large, long-term investments.

So if solar PV is going to be cheaper than coal in the next decade or so, that seems like the kind of thing utilities, regulators, investors, and political leaders would want to, I don’t know, talk over. Grapple with. Mull. It certainly seems relevant to the investment thesis for large, centralized power infrastructure. Yet it’s all but invisible in the elite U.S. energy conversation, outside of a few voices like FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff. Very Serious People still see solar PV as an affectation, a kind of charity project.

Hope you are still with me, because this is really an incredibly positive message.  By the time children born today are becoming teenagers, the means of harnessing the sun to deliver clean energy cheaper than carbon-based and nuclear generation will be a reality.  In a little over a decade from now!

It is so easy to see doom and gloom wherever we look.  For good reasons; these are very difficult times as societies pull back from the greed and materialism of recent times to a better, sustainable relationship with our planet, the only one we have.  But technology and innovation are quietly creating the opportunities for a new future for humanity.

Let me finish with an email received recently from good friend, John H., up here in Payson, Arizona.

Greetings from a Mountain Top,

It has been another bright and peaceful day of Indian summer in the Ponderosa pine forests of the Arizona Rocky Mountains. Our annual state-wide church convention last weekend was a metaphorical breath of fresh air.  It was an opportunity to realize where we’ve been and consider how far we have to go.

From the early evening vantage point of an upper porch with a vista of forest, mountains and sky, it appears that we’re facing spiritual, environmental, human and economic bankruptcy caused by top down idolatry, arrogance and ignorance.

It’s deeply disturbing to watch our human heritage destroyed by a corporate-government-military-industrial-intelligence complex with a clear plan to control the world through oppression. This systemic machine continues to increase the drain on the earth’s severely depleted resources.

Our present energy sources can no longer sustain exponential human population growth.  The industrial use of fossil fuels is destroying the earth which sustains us.  It’s time for us to wake up and read the book of life.  It’s time to lighten the human footprint upon the earth while we still have a choice.  Nature doesn’t care about human ambition.

Peace and love, an old lamplighter

Meaning of words!

Especially appealing to all Scrabble players!

Big thanks to friend Bob D. for forwarding this.  (Note: hope this formatting works for you, had some issues managing the format at this end.)


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Steve Jobs, RIP

The man who put a ding in the universe!

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs know that my pattern is to write a single article each day with a focus on something light and airy over the week-end.  But I’m making an exception this Sunday, for two reasons.  The first was that I spent a couple of hours yesterday catching up on this week’s The Economist and especially liked the tribute to Steve Jobs; a small extract is below with a link to the full article.  The second reason was that friend, Neil K. in South Devon, sent me a lovely graphical tribute that I wanted so much to share with you.

So, first to The Economist article,

Steve Jobs

The magician

The revolution that Steve Jobs led is only just beginning

Oct 8th 2011 | from the print edition

Steve Jobs

WHEN it came to putting on a show, nobody else in the computer industry, or any other industry for that matter, could match Steve Jobs. His product launches, at which he would stand alone on a black stage and conjure up an “incredible” new electronic gadget in front of an awed crowd, were the performances of a master showman. All computers do is fetch and shuffle numbers, he once explained, but do it fast enough and “the results appear to be magic”. Mr Jobs, who died this week aged 56, spent his life packaging that magic into elegantly designed, easy-to-use products.

Read the full article on The Economist website.  The article finishes, thus,

Mr Jobs was said by an engineer in the early years of Apple to emit a “reality distortion field”, such were his powers of persuasion. But in the end he conjured up a reality of his own, channelling the magic of computing into products that reshaped entire industries. The man who said in his youth that he wanted to “put a ding in the universe” did just that.

Copyright © 2011 The Economist

Next, the graphical tribute received from Neil K.,

You may have seen this but what a simple and effective way to celebrate the passing of great man…  N